Monday, September 29, 2014

"Ethics in the Age of Obama"

                                 Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Ethics in the Age of Obama”
September 29, 2014

Pundits in mainstream media and politicians everywhere deplore the lack of ethics in banking, business and sports. They are right to think so. Corruption, cronyism and lobbying for special tax breaks and regulation, designed to limit competition, are not habits or characteristics that should be abetted, or even abided. The financial collapse in 2007-2008, like a receding tide, revealed the debris of fraud that had become all too common in the banking industry. Domestic violence has no place in sports or anywhere else; it should be unacceptable in any civilized society.

Unethical behavior has become commonplace from Hollywood to our schools. Moral relativism has substituted for the values instilled from our Christian-Judea heritage. Political correctness prevents such behavior from being condemned by most politicians and many in the media.

But it is in politics where the ethically-challenged nature of our society is most visible. Media and political “do-gooders,” always afraid of offending the intolerant, have remained silent when it has come to the practices of the ethically-challenged Obama Administration. Three flagrant examples are symptomatic: The “fast and furious” gun-running travesty early in Mr. Obama’s first Administration, which has not gone away (a judge’s recent decision may explain Attorney General Eric Holder’s sudden resignation); Benghazi, which has been a surfeit of lies and dissembling comments for over two years, from Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama to the sycophants who work for them; and the IRS scandal, which ranks among the most dastardly acts of any administration, as that federal bureaucracy, with the greatest access to our most sensitive information, became a tool for political gain.

Ethics are the moral principles that govern our behavior, as individuals and, collectively. They teach us an understanding of essential truths, to differentiate right from wrong. They are seen in the Golden Rule, the principles embedded in the 10 Commandments, in acts of kindness and in phrases like “thank you” and “excuse me.” If they seem old fashioned, it is because they are. Times and conditions change, but universal truths do not, and neither does honor nor displays of respect.

Ethical behavior should be automatic. It should be instinctive, ingrained in our character, taught by our parents and in schools, from our earliest years. It is more behavioral than intellectual. Unlike Ovid’s Medea, when we see the “right way,” we should follow it. Can it be taught in business schools? Should legislators be required to take remedial courses in ethical behavior? Perhaps, but I suspect the damage would already have been done. Business schools are basically trade schools, with an emphasis on marketing, investing and accounting. Students should already be grounded in the mechanics of ethical behavior. Legislators, I fear, would politicize any course – discussing their preferred definition of words such as “inequality,” rather than attempting to fathom moral truths.

Can ethics be legislated? Perhaps. Florida’s law that prevents elected officials from accepting campaign contributions during regular and special sessions makes sense. Gifts to public servants should not be allowed. But is it possible to create a law that forces a legislator or executive to work for “good” government, rather than re-election? I doubt it. Social forces, as we know, tend to weigh against personal integrity. If the fiber of the elected official is not moral when he or she assumes office, no such rule will change that person’s character.

Many have taken hold of the word “ethics” and twisted it for their own purpose. Corporate inversions are an example. President Obama has termed the use of inversions as being unpatriotic and unethical. Really? There is nothing unethical or unpatriotic about a business serving its constituents to the best of its ability, while operating within the law. The constituency of a business is comprised of five parts – employees, owners, customers, lenders and community. Success implies that all five components will be served. Good employees will be promoted and new ones will be hired. Owners will benefit through dividends. Customers will be satisfied with products and services that are competitive with alternatives. Lenders will have their loans repaid with interest. And the community will benefit from the multiplier effect of employees’ spending, and taxes paid both by the business and the employees. But, in order for all constituencies to do well, the business must be run efficiently, productively and profitably, and that includes paying no more taxes than are required.

It is government’s moral responsibility to operate within their financial means, setting tax rates to cover expenses, while allowing the economy to be as productive as possible. When governments run deficits they act unethically; for they debase the currency, placing an unstated but unavoidable tax on their citizens.

The decline in our ethical behavior has been coincidental with a decline in patriotism. Yale professor emeritus Donald Kagan wrote a piece in the weekend’s edition of the Wall Street Journal. In the article he argued that democracy requires education to incorporate a sense of patriotism with an understanding of the classical philosophies that guided our founders. He suggested we be grounded in civics and morals. By patriotism, he did not mean chauvinism, but the love and support of the country. When he speaks of pride in our nation’s heritage, he does not mean hubris, but the knowledge that our unity is based on a diverse population, where free people keep their own traditions and religions, but function under the rule of law, and with the rights granted by our Constitution. Morality leads to wisdom, and wisdom leads to good judgments.

When government makes a mistake, like sending guns into Mexico, and does not admit their error, it reflects poor judgment. When we fail to own up to wrongs that were done in Benghazi that caused the death of four men, it diminishes us as a people. When we allow our elected leaders to use the IRS for political gain, it says we have lost our moral way. When euphemisms are employed to hide uncomfortable truths, we act immorally. Is it ethical for past Presidents to use their previous office to garner personal wealth? Harry Truman didn’t think so. When we become complicit in denying misconduct, it means we, too, have lost our moral sense.

Friday, September 26, 2014

“Clean Water is a Right, Whilst Streets are for Littering!”

                                   Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Clean Water is a Right, Whilst Streets are for Littering!”
September 26, 2014

They arrived on five hundred and fifty diesel-polluting buses and carbon dioxide emitting planes. Three hundred thousand paraded in the streets of New York in a People’s Climate March that was organized by Bill McKibben, co-founder of It was a rally against man-caused climate change, but also included those who were demonstrating against fracking. (Keep in mind, it has been lower natural gas prices, a consequence of fracking, which has allowed the U.S. to take the lead in reducing emissions.)

Among the marchers were celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio. Mr. DiCaprio, taking time out from yachting with Arab oil sheiks, arrived on his private plane. His jet, of course, emits more tons of carbon dioxide in one trip than the average person does in two months. While carrying signs indicating their commitment to the environment (one of which read: “clean water is a right, not a luxury”), they saw nothing hypocritical in littering the street with at least one hundred tons of garbage. Like their political antecedent, Occupy Wall Street, they see no connection between creed and behavior.

Like Canute, naïfs are convinced that nature can be tamed by eating organic foods, driving a Prius, and getting electricity from wind farms, with little care or understanding of the costs. At the other end of the climate spectrum, extremists like Al Gore and Naomi Klein are simply charlatans. They publically endorse the message: “Climate change is the symptom; capitalism is the disease; socialism is the cure,” while privately using the venue to accumulate personal wealth.

In spite of the angst generated by debates over climate change, there are at least two “facts” on which all people should agree: One, we know that the earth’s climate is in constant flux; it always has been and always will be. Two, it is a given that man has had an impact, principally through greenhouse gasses that are released into the earth’s atmosphere via emissions from the conventional use of fossil fuels. The debate is about the percentage of greenhouse gasses that are in the atmosphere, which are man-caused. Steven Koonin is the director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University and former undersecretary for science in the Energy Department in President Obama’s first term. Writing in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal, he stated, “…human additions to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the middle of the 21st century are expected to directly shift the atmosphere’s natural greenhouse effect by only 1% to 2%.” The climate is changing, but man is not the main cause.

The debate over man’s contribution to climate change is compounded because there is a large difference in carbon emissions per unit of GDP between rich nations and those that are in the process of becoming rich. While levels of man-caused carbon dioxide have increased, globally, the levels of carbon dioxide per unit of GDP declined 29% between 1990 and 2012. In the U.S., the decline has been roughly sixty percent. Since 2003, according to the latest BP Statistical Review of World Energy, the U.S., with no federal mandates for renewables, has cut carbon dioxide emissions by over 400 million tons, despite the economy expanding by 45 percent. The reduction is six times what has happened in German, with an economy one fifth of ours, but which is the poster child for how things environmentally are supposed to be done. (Germany’s economy during the same ten years expanded by 33 percent, making America’s performance even more impressive.)

The earth is complex and ever-changing. When we divert water to save California’s Delta Smelt, we put at risk other species, including humans. Scientists estimate that about 15,000 species are discovered every year and something like 10,000 to 25,000 die out each year. No one knows the actual number of species who make earth home. About 1,500,000 have been catalogued, but it is estimated that there may be more than eight million.

In Tuesday’s Science section of the New York Times was a fascinating article by James Gorman, “Nature in the Balance.” Mr. Gorman wrote of scientists concerned that melting ice in the Arctic, along with a decline in the seal population, was putting the fate of the Polar Bear at risk. (Incidentally, while Arctic ice has been decreasing, ice in the Antarctic has been increasing.) Surprising everyone, the numbers of Snow Geese, which hitherto had been in decline, began expanding, coming to the Polar Bear’s rescue in providing a new source of food. The ability to adapt is critical to the survivorship of species, and when, with good intentions, we mess with these natural trends, we upset a rebalancing that occurs naturally. For example, it should not now become man’s responsibility to save the Snow Goose from being dinner to Polar Bears.

We have come a long way over the past half century. Seventy years ago, at a time when no one marched for climate change, the air in New York City was heavy with soot from apartment buildings heated by coal. The Third Avenue El emitted black smoke as it made its way up what is today a beautiful avenue. Long Island Sound was filthy and the rivers and marshes on much of the East Coast were polluted. The change is largely a consequence of a society that has become wealthier. Economic growth, along with sensible regulation, should be the principal concern of those who want to preserve and enhance the environment.

Our fundamental rights, enumerated in the First Amendment of the Constitution, say nothing about clean water, as marchers last Sunday implied. As the marchers made it discouragingly clear, neither are clean streets a “right.” Clean water, however, is a necessity to live healthy lives, and environmentalists would better spend their time in helping nations in Africa in purifying water. Clean streets are an outgrowth of wealth. The fact that marchers indiscriminately tossed Styrofoam cups and uneaten bagels onto sidewalks and streets is a manifestation of a society that exhibits a careless indifference and disrespect for the property of others.

None of what I wrote is meant to imply that we should wantonly exploit our habitat; we should not. We should be conscious of all of nature that surrounds us; we should limit our impact to the best of our ability. It has been the increased use of natural gas that has reduced our emissions. Fracking should be encouraged, not disparaged, as many of the marchers advocated. And we should not tell the Chinese to limit or slow their economic growth because of a false belief that man is responsible for the majority of greenhouse gasses that reside in the atmosphere. Nor should we deny higher standards of living for those living in other parts of the developing world. We must combine wisdom with common sense.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"The First Amendment, Congress and the American People"

                 Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“The First Amendment, Congress and the American People”
September 23,, 2014

The Constitution’s 227th birthday last week went almost unnoticed, except in Washington where Senator Harry Reid continued his assault on the First Amendment – which he would change so as to harness his political opponents, but which permits him to say whatever he wishes from one of the most powerful pulpits in the land.

Also last week, a poll of high school students and teachers regarding the Constitution’s First Amendment was released. It was conducted by the Florida-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Its findings were startling: Thirty-eight percent of the high school teachers believe the First Amendment provides too much freedom. Students appeared to better understand than their teachers the importance of the First Amendment in their everyday lives. Nevertheless, a still surprising 24% agreed that it is too liberal. This misunderstanding of the Bill of Rights is not limited to teachers and their students. Seventy-six percent of Americans, according to a Harris Poll released earlier this year, said they thought the First Amendment guaranteed freedom from religion, as well as the freedom to pray as one chooses.

I was astonished by the findings, but perhaps I should not have been. Political correctness has affected the way American history is taught, and the Left dominates the teaching staffs in our schools and universities.. It is axiomatic that the larger the role government plays in our lives, the fewer our rights The Left feeds on those who are dependent on government. The numbers favor them. The bottom 40% of all federal taxpayers pay a negative 9.1% of all federal taxes, while the top 40% pay 106.1%. An immersion in government has effectively divided us into two classes – those who pay the bills and those who do not.

The Constitution’s First Amendment provides basic liberties, and it prohibits Congress from enacting any law that may abridge those rights. Like most of our early laws, it is short (45 words) and easy to understand. It prohibits Congress from passing any law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the practice of one; it prohibits Congress from passing any law that restricts freedom of speech, the press, or the right of people to peaceably assemble. It protects the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Such rights are elemental to a free society. Yet, its values are underappreciated by legions of Americans, It is at risk by those in Congress, either ignorantly or knowingly, who would change it for their own political purpose.

There are, of course, certain activities not restricted or protected by the First Amendment. It does not protect the rights of individuals in respect to the companies or businesses where they are employed. It is not aimed at parents for restraining their children. It does not protect individuals from slandering their enemies, uttering obscenities, lying under oath, or for yelling “Fire!” in a public place. It does not protect IRS employees like Lois Lerner who subvert an impartial branch of the federal government into an agency that attacks or hinders political opponents.

For those like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, it was government they feared, not people or businesses. The First Amendment was designed to protect the people from an omniscient and omnipresent government. It allows preachers like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright to speak blasphemously about his country; it permits newspapers, and TV and radio news shows to offer their opinions, no matter how ridiculous; and it allows individuals, unions, organizations and businesses to support those political policies they prefer.

The most recent attack on the First Amendment came from a group of Senators that wanted Congress and the states to determine how money was raised and spent by candidates and those who influence elections. They were led by Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Tom Udall (D-NM). In total 45 Senators sided with Mr. Reid’s group. Specifically, they wanted an Amendment to overturn Citizens United and McCutcheon v FEC. The consequence would have been a transfer of power from the people to Congress. Fortunately the Bill died before reaching the Senate floor.

I agree that there is far too much money sloshing around in the political arena. But that has always been the case, as influence peddlers work their magic on K Street. Ironically, money has become far more ubiquitous and rhetoric far more extreme since passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2003, better known as McCain-Feingold. That ill-conceived Act encouraged the growth of Political Action Committees (PACs), which can accept unlimited funds with no disclosure of contributors. Today, PACs with their partisan extremism, dominate today’s political campaigns. Last April, the Washington Post reported that 94% of 2012’s TV political ad spending was by PACs. While Senator Reid lambasts the Koch brothers, we hear little about the Senate Majority PAC, run by people affiliated with Senator Reid, which has raised more money in the current election cycle – $33 million – than any other PAC associated with either party. In Wisconsin, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm has intimidated conservatives by having their homes ransacked and their private affairs dragged through courts; so that advocacy groups are reluctant to speak out. Government intimidation was not what the founders had in mind in 1791 when Virginia became the final state to ratify the Bill of Rights.

The First Amendment is clear that political speech cannot be restricted. But there is nothing in the Constitution that says contributions must be anonymous. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” wrote Justice Louis Brandeis, referring to the benefits of openness and transparency. Why should that not apply to all political gifts, including those to PACs? Trying to control the flow of money to a campaign, besides being a violation of our rights, would be an impossible, Herculean task. Smart lawyers, with few scruples, would find ways to circumvent any such law.

We are fortunate to live in this nation. All one has to do is look around the world at the fighting in the Middle East, the threat to freedom in Ukraine, the intolerance of Chinese officials toward residents of Hong Kong, the Ebola outbreak amid the extreme poverty in Africa, the political corruption in Argentina and Venezuela to know how lucky we are. But freedom is not free. It demands an educated public. It is fragile and can easily become corroded. A thorough understanding of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights by everyone is imperative if we are going to survive as a free people. The polls suggest that is not the case. We are at risk of losing the battle.

Friday, September 19, 2014

"Ebola - A Pandemic?"

                                    Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Ebola – a Pandemic?”
September 19, 2014

In the spring of 1918, the influenza that would become pandemic was first detected. It was initially known as “three-day-fever.” Its effects were such that it caused few deaths. Nobody paid it much heed. That fall, however, it reappeared in a more deadly form, and began to rapidly spread. Because of the War and the subsequent troop demobilization in late 1918 and 1919, a concentration of soldiers in camps, and in troop ships and trains returning to their homes abetted the disease’s migration around the world. By the end of 1919, somewhere between 20 million and 50 million people were dead of influenza, more than had been killed in four years of fighting. It has been estimated that over 20% of the U.S. population (106 million in 1920) had contracted the flu, with 675,000 dying. While those numbers suggest the death rate was only 3.5%, the 675,000 dead were almost six times the number of Americans killed in the War.

The outbreak of the Ebola virus was first seen in Guinea in December 2013. It has since spread to at least four other West African countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Nigeria, and recently Ebola been confirmed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The three hardest hit countries are among the smallest. Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have a combined population of 22 million, But Nigeria has a population of 173 million and 68 million people live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Significantly, the latter two countries are not contiguous to the others.

A data sheet from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta provides some key facts:
* Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe,   often fatal illness in humans.
             * EVD outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90%.
* The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission.
             * Fruit bats are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus.
 * Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. No licensed specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals.

Once contracted, Ebola is far more deadly than the influenza. Thus far this year, 49% of those infected have died. Costs are rising and it is gaining momentum. An article in Wednesday’s Financial Times quoted Dr. David Nabarro, senior UN coordinator for Ebola. Dr. Nabarro estimated that the cost of addressing the disease jumped tenfold to $1 billion from just a month earlier. Shanelle Hall, director of the supply division of UNICEF, which has sent 550 tons of supplies to West Africa was quoted: “The pace of the disease and also its impact have taken our breath away – it’s been that massive.” According to a report in Wednesday’s New York Times, reported cases are at 4,985, including 2,461 deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that half of the infections have occurred in the past three weeks, and they expect that fatalities are likely to continue to double every three weeks. The numbers are sobering. A doubling every three weeks means that by the end of December, 165,000 people could be infected, and in six months 2.5 million could have the disease, with over a million dead.

The possibility of the disease coming to the United States may be remote, but its devastation in Africa could have world-wide humanitarian and economic consequences. The likelihood, of course, is that it will be contained on the African continent and fear of its spread should not cause panic in the U.S. For one, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said that it was extremely unlikely that the Ebola virus would mutate into an airborne pathogen. Given proper, supportive patient care, healthcare workers and family members should be okay, but patients must be kept isolated, as the disease is spread through contact with bodily fluids. The question is: Do conditions in Africa permit such patient care?

But to scoff at the threat, as did Investor’s Business Daily on Wednesday, is to show unconcern about its potential consequences. In Liberia’s capital city of Monrovia, according to the report in the Times, bodies are often left in homes or neighborhoods for up to three days before burial teams can take them away. At this point there is no vaccine, though one is being tested in the U.S. by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and GlaxoSmithKline. Yesterday, the Associated Press reported on a similar experimental vaccine being tested in the U.K.

It was good to see the President travel to the CDC in Atlanta on Tuesday where he spoke with some urgency. He called the crisis a “top national security priority.” But we are late in treating this as the emergency it is, and it is not getting the press coverage it deserves, perhaps because the media does not want to be seen as responsible for inciting a panic. As an indication as to how long it has taken the world to respond, until a few weeks ago the WHO was more concerned with the proliferation of electronic cigarettes than with controlling the spread of Ebola.

Nevertheless, the situation is now being taken seriously in Washington and elsewhere. Why else would the State Department have ordered 160,000 Hazmat suits? Mr. Obama will ask Congress for $88 million to conduct a “major Ebola offensive” in Africa. Additionally, he will send 3,000 American troops to help set up 17 treatment centers with 100 beds each, which will take about three weeks to accomplish. It will not be enough. Liberian officials claim they will need 1,000 beds next week.

While there are those like Illinois’ Senator Dick Durbin who would politicize this tragedy – using twisted logic, he recently argued that a comprehensive immigration amnesty bill would have helped America contain the Ebola epidemic in Africa – America’s response shows our country at its best. The United States is condemned for involving itself in others’ affairs. We are criticized by many, at home and abroad, for attempting to impose our values on other cultures. Yet, it is humanitarian acts such as these that manifest the magnanimity of our values – that make America the exceptional nation she is. Would China have done the same? Would Russia, Brazil, or even Europe? Once our influence and standing are diminished (as seems to be the course we are on), who will replace us? We are the indispensable nation. That’s not pride; that’s reality.

The word pandemic stems from the Greek pandēmos, meaning all the people. In reference to a disease it means that it is widespread throughout a country, region, continent or the world, affecting a large percentage of the population. Given current statistics, Ebola is not pandemic, but it is likely to become one.

The Opinions expressed above are mine alone, and do not represent those of the firm Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co., Inc., or of any of its partners or employees.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Scotland - Union or Disunion"

                                    Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
ScotlandUnion or Disunion?”
September 17, 2014

Tomorrow, the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannock Burn that gave Scotland freedom from the English, resident Scots aged 16 and older will go to the polls to determine whether Scotland will remain part of the United Kingdom, or if it will become independent.

(The British and Scottish crowns were reunited in 1603 with the ascension of James I as England’s king. James I was already, as James VI, King of Scotland. However, it would not be for another 100 years, until May 1, 1707, that the Act of Union brought open borders to Scotland.)

The Scots are an independent, loyal and stubborn people. As Niall Ferguson noted in Monday’s New York Times: “If you said to the average Glaswegian, ‘If you down that beer, you’ll get your head kicked in,’ he would react by draining his glass…and [then] telling the bartender, ‘Do it again.’” But they are also a thoughtful, creative and industrious people, having produced such luminaries as Adam Smith, David Hume, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie, John Paul Jones and one of my favorite authors, the late George MacDonald Fraser.

In the campaign for independence, Alex Salmond and his Scottish National Party (SNP) have appealed to the emotions, using ideology and policy grievances as their principal tools.  Mr. Salmond has phrased the “Yes” campaign as a struggle between Scotland and Westminster – the powerful against the weak, a lord (or laird) versus his servants. His arguments have been heavy on the romantic and nationalistic, but light in terms of responding to hard questions: What currency will Scotland use? How would the two countries divide declining revenues from oil production? Will large Scottish banking and insurance institutions, such as the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds, move out of Scotland as they have threatened to do? Where will the UK’s Trident nuclear subs be based if they are forced out of the Royal Naval base in Glasgow? What will be Scotland’s share of UK debt? If Scotland reneges on that debt, as Mr. Salmond has indicated he might, what will be the effect on the country’s credit rating? How will Edinburg finance the welfare state Scots have grown accustomed to, and which they want to continue and expand? How high will taxes have to be raised? What will be the impact on the economy? How will reserves for a central bank be funded?

More distracting than helpful have been the outpourings for “Yes” coming from Scottish expatriates. They ride the nationalist wave, but would be immune from any unpleasant consequences. Sean Connery backs independence because the people of Scotland are “the best guardians of their own future.” But, what does that mean? The actor spoke from his home in the Bahamas, a place that will never feel any nasty repercussions of separation. The author Irvine Welsh, who now lives in Chicago, half-joked: “Staying in the UK is nature’s way of stopping the Scots from ruling the world.” Scotland-born Alan Cumming, who plays a spin doctor on CBS’s “The Good Wife,” exclaimed: “We now have a chance to have our own destiny in our own hands.” Living in Manhattan, Mr. Cumming’s destiny depends on TV and movie appearances.

Forecasts of doom are predicted by those who fear what separation may bring. The headline in the current issue of The Economist: “Painful Consequences of Scottish Independence.” The opposition has raised the questions listed two paragraphs above, and suggested a “Yes” vote will give confidence to Catalans in Spain, Corsicans in France and Bavarians in Germany. A hundred years ago, Europe was dominated by empires – Turkish, Austrian, Prussian, British and Russian. World War I ended those empires, sometimes along purely arbitrary lines. A world that welcomed the final dissolution of Britain’s Empire after World War II has now decided that the U. K. is at its optimum size. Like cells that survive by dividing, the people of nations are almost endlessly divisible, but at some point, when divided too small, the consequence is anarchy. An unhealthy focus on ethnicity gives rise to an equally unhealthy spotlight on nationalism.

It must be remembered, countries and their leaders operate in their own self-interest – not in the interest of other nations. That is also true of Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron regarding Scotland. Mr. Cameron spoke Monday in Aberdeen, with a take-it or leave-it attitude: “If Scotland votes yes, the U.K will split, and we will go our separate ways for ever.” Listening to English politicians and other world leaders, all of whom predict dire consequences if Scotland goes it alone, one cannot help being reminded of Queen Gertrude’s comment to her son Hamlet, in Shakespeare’s eponymous play: “The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.” One cannot help wondering: Is David Cameron playing Br’er Rabbit to Scotland’s Br’er Fox?

Scotland has produced some of the most renowned men and women in history, far out-stripping what would be expected from a country their size. But, in recent years, they have indulged in socialism, using English taxes to help fund their welfare state. There is a belief, of almost religious intensity, that money’s will be found to fund Mr. Salmond’s utopian dream. “Freed from London,” is the way the New York Times reported his recent speech, “Scotland would be able to pursue distinct and more social-democratic policies…” Of the 60 members of Parliament that come from Scotland, 59 are Labour. Without Scotland, David Cameron’s Conservatives would hold an absolute majority in Parliament. It is the hope of Mr. Salmond and his cohorts that they will be able to build a Scandinavian-style welfare system. Independence, however, would inject a dose of reality, that nothing in life is free. A welfare state depends on taxes, and tax revenues depend on productive uses of labor and capital. Much would depend on how oil revenues are divvied up, but North Sea production has been declining, as have revenues. Scotland will have to become more productive.

Will an independent Scotland be able to survive in the world they may create? No one can answer with any authority, though the odds are against them. If they are successful in independence, it will be because of hard work on the part of its citizens, along with an ability to attract risk capital that will demand high returns. It will depend on reversing an aging demographic and on retaining and attracting existing and new industries. It will depend on restoring the image so many of us had of Scots being thrifty, hardworking and diligent. Scotland’s historical character suggests independence should work, but it will not be easy and it will not allow for the type of state Mr. Salmond envisions – at least not for several years. But that does not mean independence is not an achievable goal.

Monday, September 15, 2014

"Security versus Freedom"

                                     Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Security versus Freedom”
September 15, 2014

A challenge facing America is deciding the right balance between safety from those who would harm us and security provided by government agencies like the NSA, which under the Patriot Act have the right to scrutinize personal e-mails and phone messages. Everyone wants to be safe from another 9/11, yet no one wants some government bureaucrat reading his or her personal e-mails or listening in on calls. The freedoms we cherish will be lost if it means always living under the omnipresent eye of “big brother.” But if one is killed in a terrorist attack because of an absence of vigilance, then all that freedom would have come to naught. A life lived freely but subject to an attack, may be good for the mind, but not the body; while a fully secured life may save the body, but entrap the mind.

The debate is as old as democracy, but remains crucial. Cicero wrote, “In time of war, the laws are silent.” Benjamin Franklin admonished: “If we give up freedom to gain security, we lose both.” While there is Cicero’s statement, Franklin’s is too absolute. It ignores the likelihood that such laws do, at times, catch enemies before inflicting damage. Additionally, his statement overlooks the fact that in the past when rights have been suspended during time of war, they have been reinstated upon the arrival of peace. In a democracy, life is lived along a spectrum between anarchy and totalitarianism. That exact spot changes, depending on circumstances. While I would prefer erring on the side of freedom, I don’t want to live foolishly.

However, before attempting to determine the proper balance, the first questions that must be answered are: Are we at war? Is our homeland threatened? If the answers are ‘no’ then acts such as the Patriot Act have no place. According to David Stockman, writing on his blog on Friday, individuals from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) testified on Capitol Hill just hours before the President spoke on Wednesday evening. They stated that the closest they could come to a credible threat of ISIS planning an attack on the U.S. was chatter on Twitter. If that is true, the Patriot Act should be repealed.

But the DHS’s response begs a larger question: Is Islamic fundamentalism at war with the West, and particularly with the United States? Keep in mind, as a free people we culturally and morally represent everything Islamists hate – from our legal system, to or politics of inclusion, to our support for women’s and minority rights.

From the attack on 9/11, to the shooting at Fort Hood, to the attack on our consulate in Benghazi to the Boston marathon bombing, to the recent beheadings of two American journalists it is hard to believe we are not at war. However, last week Secretary of State John Kerry denied we were, instead describing the air attacks in Iraq as a “major counterterrorism operation.” Words matter. No matter how one felt about his policies, President Bush was always clear as to the enemy, the fight in which we had to engage and how long the war would take. Mr. Obama is reluctant to acknowledge his error in underestimating the enemy and in his refusal to admit that the acts of terror to which we have been witness are Islamic in origin. ISIS may not be a current threat to our homeland, but that does not mean that an attack is not part of their longer term plans. And the enemy is more than ISIS[1]. It is all Islamists who choose to impose Sharia law and who use terrorism as their means.

As a Senator and candidate, Mr. Obama had warned about abuses of the Patriot Act, yet as President, while denying we were at war, in February 2011 he signed a bill extending its expiring provisions for another four years. Later that year, he used the Act to justify the Drone-killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American terrorist and member of al Qaeda in Yemen. Since the White House has belatedly indicated they are comfortable with the word “war,” as least as it applies to Islamic State, presumably they are okay the privacy restrictions imposed by the Patriot Act.

Over the decades, civil rights have been abrogated by Presidents in times of war. In general, people have understood the need to do so and have accepted the consequences. In the early months of the Civil War, after the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861 and before Congress reconvened in July, newly inaugurated President Lincoln declared martial law. He called forth the militia to suppress and disperse anti-government demonstrators; he increased the size of the Army and Navy; he instituted a blockade and suspended the writ of habeas corpus. He did all this on his own, without Congressional approval. He did this, as he later explained, not to fight a civil war, but to suppress rebellion. While there were those who argued that Lincoln had become a tyrant – and, in truth, no President has done so much to remove the rights of citizens’ – Mr. Lincoln is today considered to be at the apex of our pantheon of Presidents, testament to the righteousness of his decisions – as undemocratic as they were at the time.

Woodrow Wilson once wrote: “The history of liberty is a history of resistance. The history of liberty is a history of the limitations of government power, not the increase of it.” Yet, as President, in 1917, Mr. Wilson implicitly allowed government to search the U.S. mail, looking for any material urging treason or forcible resistance to any law. In 1919 after the war, his Attorney General, Mitchell Palmer had agents seize 249 resident aliens and shipped them to the Soviet Union and certain death. Idealism is never a bed-partner of power.

“If the fires of freedom and civil liberties burn low in other lands, they must burn brighter in our own,” said Franklin Roosevelt in 1938. Four years later, in early 1942, Mr. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which allowed the government to ship 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry to ten internment camps in seven states. Two-thirds of those incarcerated were American citizens who had been forced to sell their homes and businesses at rock-bottom prices.

The deprivation of certain civil liberties, during time of war, has a history in the United States. Some of it has been justifiable, some of it not. A remarkable characteristic of our nation is how temporary anti-privacy laws have been. They have been instituted during time of war, and then usually lifted when war was over. Excluding the current war on terror, the three Presidents who did the most to curtail civil liberties are today generally ranked among America’s top ten, with Lincoln and FDR usually in the top five. Does that suggest they were right to do so? Or does it say something to the effect that we, the people, don’t care?

The internet and social media are both a blessing and a curse in this regard.  On the one hand, it has become simpler for people to reach out, connect and to express opinions. On the other hand, it is easier for government to read, listen in on and watch everything we write, say and do. The standard argument goes: what you do with your cell phone or I do with mine, or even what Anthony Weiner does with his, is not the business of government (though some might disagree about Weiner, as his salary was paid from the public purse), but what Lois Lerner does with hers when she is at work at the IRS is the business of the people. I agree.

Some people take comfort in the knowledge that, as big as government is, it is not so large that it can listen in on every call or read every e-mail. We understand that algorithms have been devised that allow computers to search out certain words and phrases. Most of us are comfortable knowing that such methods can help nab Islamic terrorists, but what makes us uncomfortable is when similar calculations are used to ferret out special interest groups by the IRS, or the Justice Department.

Knowing what is the right balance between freedom and security is difficult in this morass that represents our technologically proficient present, because we know there are people intent on killing us and destroying our culture. While I do believe our government should do what it can to seek out and destroy the bad guys, I also feel it imperative that any such Act that allows such activity should have yearly sunset provisions, meaning that they must be annually reauthorized by Congress. It is a question – who will watch the watchers?

The real threat to democracy is the cronyism that exists between political leaders and powerful economic forces that align themselves in such a way to deny mobility and perpetuate a single party. We see such activity between government and monopolistic companies like GE, large, money-center banks, and big unions. In truth, I worry more about a loss of liberty when Senator Harry Reid attempts to amend the First Amendment by limiting campaign contributions.   

[1] It is curious that Mr. Obama insists on using the acronym ISIL, rather than ISIS. The difference is that the last ‘S’ in ISIS refers to Syria, while the ‘L’ in ISIL refers to the Levant. While it is generally assumed that Mr. Obama does not use ISIS because of the reference to Syria, The Levant refers to a much larger area, including Syria, which stretches from southern Turkey to Egypt, along the Mediterranean and bordered on the east by parts of western Iraq. Besides Syria, the Levant includes Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel.

Friday, September 12, 2014

"Connecticut - She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not"

 Sydney M. Williams                                                                                                      September 12, 2014
A Note from Old Lyme
Connecticut – She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not”

“A window opening onto fair meadows of hopefulness”
                                                                                                                        John Hollander (1929-2013)
                                        Connecticut Poet Laureate (2007-2011)
                                                                                                                        “The Night Mirror” 1971

Professor Semir Zeki of University College London would not be surprised if I find myself both loving and hating the state in which I was born, and in which I have lived for fifty years. A study by the British biologist showed that some of the nervous circuits in the brain responsible for love are the same as those responsible for hate.

Connecticut has great beauty and plentiful resources, both of the natural and human kind. But in the past two decades its political leaders have adopted policies that have impeded economic growth and limited individual freedom.

Nevertheless, one could say the state is in my blood, as I have ancestors who were here 350 years ago. I was born here and have lived here most of my life. Young women in 1940, if they could, would often return to their mothers when they were about to give birth. That was especially true with a woman’s first births. That decision must have seemed obvious when the option was a small farmhouse, with no central heat, during a cold New Hampshire winter. So my mother went back to her parents, late that year, when eight months pregnant with me. Grace New Haven Hospital became my first home, for a week or so, when I was born at the end of January of 1941. A few years later, during the War, my mother returned home again with her horses, goats and three children, while pregnant with a fourth. My father had been shipped overseas to fight the Nazis in Italy. We would live in Madison for about a year and a half.

Since we were married in 1964, Caroline and I have lived in Connecticut, other than our first year when I was still at college in New Hampshire. We have lived in four Connecticut towns – briefly in Glastonbury and Durham, and for almost a quarter of a century each in Greenwich and Old Lyme. It is a state I love. From the green fields and rolling hills of Litchfield County, to the rural farms in Windham County, to the 618 miles of coast line that stretch from Greenwich to Stonington, it is a state easy to embrace. Through the center of the state, passing through the state capital of Hartford, descends the Connecticut, New England’s longest and largest river. It takes its name from the Algonquin, Quinnehtukqut, which means “beside the long tidal river.” The river runs 410 miles from just south of the Canadian border to its mouth. It empties into the Sound, with Old Saybrook on the west bank and Old Lyme on the east. Its estuary, on which we now live, is filled with marsh islands and small creeks, and has been designated by the Nature Conservancy as one of the 40 “Last Great Places” in the Western hemisphere.

With a median household income of $65,753, Connecticut ranks fourth highest in the nation. The state has the most educated population in the country, with 36.2% having a bachelor’s degree or higher. It has one of the highest concentrations of educational institutions in the country, with Yale, Trinity, Wesleyan and Connecticut College within thirty-five miles of our home in Old Lyme. It is home to innumerable corporate executives. It has a thriving art academy in Old Lyme. The state is an important link between New York and Boston, with its highway, rail and air transport systems. From the south, it is the gateway to New England.

So, it is sad that this state, so rich in resources and skills, should be doing so poorly by its citizens. Consider these numbers:

·         The Department of Commerce ranked Connecticut 50 out of 50 states for annual economic growth in 2012.
·         The American Legislative Council, for the same year, ranked Connecticut 46 for economic performance and 43 for economic outlook.
·         Barron’s states that Connecticut has the highest level of state debt and pension liabilities per taxpayer of any state in the union.
·         In the past six years, the workforce shrunk by 3,000.
·         Median household income has declined by 4% since 2008.
·         The Tax Foundation publishes a State Business Climate Index. On its list of the ten worst, Connecticut is prominently displayed. Forbes, slightly more generous, ranks the state 33 in overall business climate.
·         Even before the financial meltdown, between 1996 and 2006, the number of small businesses operating in Connecticut declined by 2.2%.

Connecticut is a study in contrasts. It is home to some of America’s richest individuals, but 10% live below the poverty level. Median family income ranges from $242,000 in Weston to $32,000 in Hartford. The median value of its owner-occupied homes is 57% above the national average at $285,000, yet the amount of state debt per capita is the highest in the nation. Unemployment in the state is second highest in New England. The State Business Tax Climate Index ranks the state among the ten worst in the nation. Yet, in terms of “quality of life,” another survey ranks the state second in the nation. Maintaining this split, the “business costs index,” has the state three from the bottom. (Such dichotomies can be experienced in personal ways. The other day, as I ruefully pondered my September quarterly tax payment, a deer gracefully crossed the lawn!) A combination of repressive taxes and over-regulation has created this situation. Every new rule imposed means one less arrow in our quiver of freedom. There is a yin-yang to Connecticut that causes people to love the state, yet want to move out. The “yang” seems to be winning. Over the past two decades, 300,000 more Connecticut residents have moved out than moved in.

As for us, our hearts being bigger than our heads, Caroline and I are likely to remain residents. It doesn’t make much common or economic sense, but there is so much about the state we love: the stone walls that guard the back roads; the quiet, tree-lined streets with their colonial homes; the smell of the marshes that remind me of my grandparent’s home in Madison; the book barns that I frequent; the beaches along Long Island Sound. We enjoy walking through the Duck River Cemetery in Old Lyme, where stones mark the graves of veterans from every war in which Americans have fought and died, from King Phillip’s War in 1676 to Vietnam in 1973. We appreciate the history and admire the fact that men and women came to this place with nothing but determination to carve from the land a living, a place where they could live in freedom. I wonder – would I have had the courage to leave a home, with city streets, shops, family and friends, in order to make a new life, in an unexplored wilderness? I don’t know the answer, but since some of my ancestors did make that commitment, I feel an obligation to honor their pledge.

But I hope and I pray that those whom we have elected to run our government will have the common sense to allow this dream to continue. I worry, because I know that those whom we elected have promised more than can reasonably be provided, and that the cost of their largesse (our money) will have negative consequences: the dependency of the few on the production of the many is changing and becoming a dependency of the many on a productive few. That trend is one of the explanations for the widening income gap that troubles us all. More troubling, though, is the realization that once the dependent outnumber the productive, our democracy will cease.

In the meantime, however, we have this beautiful place. Whether one looks out on Sharon’s hills or Putnam’s farms, at office towers in Hartford or the cloisters of Yale’s colleges, at former mills of fading brick in Middletown or at beautiful homes along the Sound in Greenwich, or at the marshes before our house in Old Lyme, we have in Connecticut, as the poet John Hollander wrote, “a window opening onto fair meadows of hopefulness.” Let us hope it stays that way.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"Are Democrats Seeing the Light in Education?"

                 Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Are Democrats Seeing the Light in Education?”
September 10, 2014

Arne Duncan blinked. After being hammered for much of the summer by the two main teacher’s unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), the Education Secretary said states could delay the use of test results in teacher performance evaluations by another year. It was disappointing, but understandable, as he and his Party have been financially reliant on Teachers’ unions. Let us hope he only blinked and not shut his eyes, as did so many of his predecessors. Teachers’ unions (and, in fact, all public sector unions) have Democrats in a chokehold. (Collectively, unions are the largest contributors to political campaigns.) Over the past twenty-five years the NEA and the AFT have given about $100 million to political campaigns, with 97% of that going to Democrats. The relationship has been symbiotic, as elected Democrats have ensured that the demands of union leaders are met.

Nevertheless, I have always thought Mr. Duncan a good Education Secretary. And positive developments are altering the public school landscape. Two of those were highlighted over the past weekend. In the Sunday magazine section of the New York Times, Daniel Bergner wrote of Eva Moskowitz’s battle with Mayor Bill de Blasio regarding Success Academy Charter Schools, which Ms. Moskowitz runs. In the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, Allysia Finley interviewed Kevin Chavous. Mr. Chavous is a founding board member and executive counsel for the nonprofit American Federation for Children (AFC). Both Ms. Moskowitz and Mr. Chavous are Democrats.

No one denies the success Ms. Moskowitz has had. There are roughly five applications for every seat available in her charter schools. Her students are among the top performers in the City and the State. She has achieved those results while operating in New York’s most challenging neighborhoods. However, Mayor de Blasio argues that all one million public school children must be “saved,” not simply the few thousand who attend charter schools – that money’s spent on charters is money that cannot be spent on other public schools. That argument is disingenuous, in that students in charter schools are public school students. And the success they have brought to minority students speaks for itself. The difference is that charter schools are non-unionized. Ms. Moskowitz can fire underperforming teachers and reward good ones. She can require dress and behavioral codes. She can demand longer hours on the part of students and teachers. Her standards are more exacting than what is permitted in traditional public schools. Diane Ravitch, a New York University professor and education historian fears that charters, with their wealthy Wall Street backers, are pulling the City and the Country toward the privatization of education. That may be the goal of some, but I believe most support charters simply because Traditional public schools are failing, in part because of a lack of competition, but more importantly due to union rules – tenure after eighteen months in some places, and the difficulty administrators have in firing bad teachers. Mayor de Blasio, while claiming to be supportive of children, acts as a front for the unions that helped put him in office.

Mr. Chavous refers to himself as “a recovering politician.” In 1992 he was elected to represent Washington, D.C.’s Ward 7, a predominantly black neighborhood. Visiting city jails he became aware of the link “between education and crime, homelessness, jobs, drug abuse [and] poverty.” He became one of the first Democrats to nationally advocate charter schools, and paid the price in an election when his opponent claimed he “hated kids.” He didn’t, of course; he wanted to improve their lot. In the 2000s he worked to bring vouchers to the District, drawing fire from unions.  He did so, but, again, paid a price – this time being tossed off the City Council. In early 2009, newly elected President Obama offered a compromise that would have protected existing voucher participants, but when the president of the NEA called vouchers “an ongoing threat to public education in the District of Columbia,” Mr. Obama caved and voucher kids had to return to the failing public schools they had left.

The AFC remains a small organization, but has been making big inroads. It operates with an annual budget of $15 million, versus the NEA with revenues of $1.4 billion. It has 30 employees. The organization lobbies for school choice, arguing that school systems should offer vouchers, allowing disadvantaged children to attend private or parochial schools. They have been successful. Fourteen years ago four states had private-school choice programs, with 29,000 youngsters participating. Today 19 states have such programs, with 308,000 children enrolled. However, indicative of the influence of unions, the Justice Department has joined the fight against vouchers. Federal judges have slowed the process in states like Florida, Louisiana and Wisconsin. Like Ms. Moskowitz, Mr. Chavous’ bête noire is union antipathy. It has been a struggle, but his success suggests the good guys are gaining ground.

The symbiosis between teachers’ unions and Democrats has worked well for the success of both, but, less well for students. But cracks are appearing in the infrastructure of these unions, and it seems they may be losing the hearts and minds of Americans. For one, problems of pension and healthcare obligations are causing municipalities and states to recognize that the tail of that problem is coming into sight. For another, the abysmal performance of our young on international tests show that our schools are no longer the world’s best. Third, and perhaps most important, a recent court decision in California, scorned by AFT president Randi Weingarten but defended by Mr. Duncan, ruled tentatively that the state’s teacher tenure laws are unconstitutional.

Let’s look at those “cracks” more closely: For decades, a growing economy, increasing school employment and rising asset prices allowed state and local treasurers to place unrealistically high return assumptions on pension and retirement assets. The latter masked the underfunding problem – a problem that was kicked down the road for future administrations. That future is now here.  Second, we know that our children are not innately dumber than those in Finland or Japan. Something else must be wrong. It is. It’s in the way bad teachers are protected, and promotion is based on longevity, not ability or accomplishment. Superintendants and principals need more flexibility to hire, reward and fire teachers. Third, union intransigence: Judge Rolf Treu of the Los Angeles Superior Court stated in his recent ruling that it was poor, minority children whose education suffered the most from union adamancy. Tenure after 18 months is not good for students. “Indeed,” he said, “it shocks the conscience.” What is wrong with charter schools that outperform traditional schools? What is wrong with voucher programs that permit choice?

When the two teachers’ unions were founded – the NEA in 1857 and the AFT in 1916 – it was to remedy flagrant wrongs: to educate emancipated slaves; to end child labor; to defend teacher independence; to remove pay discriminations and petty rules. It was to use the power of collective bargaining to increase pay and benefits, to levels that reflected the professional nature of the job. However, “Somewhere along the line,” wrote Amanda Foreman in last weekend’s The Sunday Times of London, in an article on America’s teachers’ union, “the needs of children, their rights and futures became irrelevant.” Following the decision in California, the Education Secretary suggested both sides pursue a constructive alternative. “It is for all involved to recognize, as the court did, that the status quo is broken,” is the way Mr. Duncan put it after Judge Treu’s ruling.

Public education is elemental to our society, but it must be good education. It requires good teachers and principals with flexibility. It should not be privatized, but competition should be welcomed, not feared. Charters and vouchers have become increasingly common because parents of poor minorities want what is best for their children. And they know the current system is broken. Unions, which once served a critical role, today demand blind obeisance from those to whom they provide funds. But when the consequence is defending the indefensible – refusing to fire teachers who molest small children, allowing students to graduate without the basics needed for a good job, promoting teachers based solely on seniority – they no longer serve the public’s interest. They serve themselves. Unions have become the single biggest impediment to better schools.

Democrats consider themselves to be the Party that looks forward, not backward. But in being tied to the demands of regressive teachers’ unions, they are looking backward. They hurt those who should be helped. It is good to see that there are Democrats who recognize the imperative nature of the problem, including Eva Moskowitz, Kevin Chavous and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Mr. Duncan may have blinked last month, but I suspect he has not shut his eyes to the needs of students. 

Monday, September 8, 2014


                 Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
September 8, 2014

If you haven’t heard of this post-industrial town of 258,000 in South Yorkshire, England, you should have. If you have heard of the town and its scandal, but its memory is already beginning to fade, don’t let it. What happened in Rotherham is but one example of what is happening throughout much of the world by young Muslim men – terrorists and those who are just twisted – who have abducted young girls that come from poor – sometimes illiterate – and often broken families. The girls, who are usually Christian, are gang-raped, beaten, threatened and turned into “sex slaves.” In denying what is happening – if we in the West don’t get off our politically correct horse – we are all going to be taken on a ride to a land where no civilized person wants to go.

For years, city council members and local police in Rotherham played the game of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Officials allowed Muslims of Pakistani heritage to sexually exploit young, poor, white Christian girls – some no more than eleven. According to a recent report in The Economist, three reports over the past twelve years had been commissioned by the Rotherham City Council to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by these men. Those reports found that young girls were being exploited and the men accused had also been involved in “gun crimes and drug-dealing.” But one report was suppressed because senior officers disbelieved the data; and the other two were ignored. Local officials were concerned they “might be fingered as racists.” Consequently, for over a decade Muslim perverts plied young girls with alcohol and drugs, gang-raped and beat them, told them their families would be killed if what happened got out, and then trafficked them to other cities. The young men had no fear from authorities. They were protected by a culture of political correctness that prevented the police from confronting them. At least 1,400 young girls were subjected to these criminal acts over a 16-year period. In an article last week, the New York Times reported that the police in Rotherham referred to the girls as “tarts” and that their abuse was a “lifestyle choice.” Rapists were noted as “boyfriends.”

What finally brought this story to light was an investigative report by Andrew Norfolk of The Times of London (a Robert Murdock paper). That report, belatedly, prompted the Rotherham City Council to hire an independent investigator, which they did in the person of Alexis Jay. Professor Jay is visiting professor at University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. She was formerly the Chief Social Work Advisor to the Scottish Government. Her report, as one commentator wrote, was not for the squeamish. Following its release, both the city council head and police chief resigned.

What Ms. Jay discovered was appalling, not only in terms of the maliciousness of the crime and how long it had been going on, but in the depth and breadth of the cover-up, which can only be attributed to the cultural spread of political-correctness and the misogynist attitude of the council and police toward poor, often illiterate, young white girls. The report also noted that what was happening in Rotherham was not limited to that city, but had been occurring in northern towns like Oldham and Rochdale and southern cities like Oxford, where gangs of young “Asian men” (a euphemism for Muslims of Pakistani heritage) have been convicted of grooming and abusing young white women.

The concept of multiculturalism is not in of itself bad. In a global environment, we all must learn to get along. We come from differing economic, religious and social backgrounds. But, as we are tolerant toward others, we must also remain true to our own values. Many on the Left in both the United States and Europe, in an attempt to accommodate those who are different, have deep-sixed their own values, along with commonsense and decency. They will remove, or incorporate, race, sex or religion into any story, depending on its convenience to the message they want to send.

It is truth that should be sought, not arguments to further a political cause. If the story of Rotherham is portrayed simply as a story of opportunistic men taking advantage of vulnerable girls from poor and broken homes, it risks being transformed from what is a heinous crime into something less offensive. If the role of Muslim misogyny is ignored (which would be hard to do given Ms. Jay’s report), those who do so risk playing into the hands of the British National Party (BNP). That would, according to Julie Binder, a feminist who has investigated the phenomenon of girls being exploited by groups of Pakistani Muslims, permit the BNP to “colonize the story for its own end.” Her fears may be justified; for stupid behavior, even in a “good” cause, can generate harsh overreactions. A rise in Islamophobia in Rotherham, or anywhere else, would be a consequence of elites in the media and politics who promoted political correctness over truth.

Matters in England have been made worse with the incorporation of parts of Sharia law into the English legal system, despite inherent contradictions. While people should be free to pursue whatever religion they choose, they cannot ignore the rule of law. That leads to anarchy. But incorporating any aspect of Sharia law into English law will have unintended consequences. Should, for example, a Muslim woman seeking a divorce be subject to laws different from those which apply to her Christian or Jewish neighbors? Should child support be withheld because her Muslim husband so chooses? Is it right that a Muslim woman, an English citizen living in England, be denied an equal share of her inheritance just because Sharia law so dictates? Should adopted children, or those born outside of marriage, be denied inheritance because Sharia law so demands? The answers seem obvious, yet the Law Society in the UK has issued a stamp of approval regarding “Sharia compliant” wills. And today, more than 80 Sharia councils are operating in the U.K. The practice of religion should be free, but religious laws should be subordinate to the temporal law of the country.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, westernized his nation by creating a secular state. He knew that an Islamic state fosters the oppression of women and bigotry and inhibits inquiry and progress. He kept his Muslim religion, but kept it separate from politics. But when Islamists, with help from their politically correct and naïve friends in the media and politics, push for Sharia law their aim is to embed religion into politics. That is alien to our Western values. The late Samuel Huntington, in the Clash of Civilizations, wrote” “Islam [is] a way of life, transcending and uniting religion and politics.”

Our lives are governed by the laws of the country in which we live. To live civilly we obey them and conform to the social and cultural norms of that city, state and country. In addition, we, in the West, live by a moral code based on Christian-Judeo values, ones with which most immigrants have no problem adapting. It includes equal treatment of all sexes, races and religions. It protects the young. Regardless of our individual religious beliefs, however, society must adhere to rules of law that apply equally to all citizens. It cannot make exceptions. In the case of immigrants, most choose to emigrate because they prefer the opportunities of the host country, which include the laws and customs of that land. Unlike Christianity or Judaism, in which religion provides a general moral code, the principles of Sharia govern all aspects of a Muslim’s life. While the Church of England is England’s national church, it is not overpowering in the way Islam is in Muslim countries that function under Islamic law. We may be multi-cultural, but they are not. When intolerant behavior is excused and laws broken are ignored, as happened in Rotherham, avoidable criminal acts unfold.

While both the Times and the Economist should be applauded for the articles they wrote, they should be criticized for the fact that neither mentioned the fact that the rapists were Muslims. (Their refusal to use “Muslim” is similar to President Obama who will not put the qualifier “Islamist” in front of the noun “terrorist,” despite the fact that most of the terrorists we and the world face today are Islamists – ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hamas, Hezbollah and dozens more. Religion is their motivating factor). Unless one is like Humpty Dumpty, to whom a word as he scornfully explained to Alice “means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less,” words have meaning. They are universally understood. Similarly, when a word like ‘Muslim’ is omitted, its absence is noted because that, too, has meaning.

One hopes that the Left will learn that while tolerance is positive, tolerance of the intolerant is not. That is the risk of political correctness. Rotherham is, unfortunately, not an uncommon story. As the Globe and Mail put it, “no amount of liberal angst will make this story go away.” It should not. Some politicians have recognized the dangers of unfiltered compassion. British Home Secretary Theresa May, in speaking about Rotherham, acknowledged that “institutionalized political correctness” has inflicted appalling damage on the innocent.

The story of Rotherham says much about our culture and the way we live our lives. We are all guilty, not only the young Pakistani Muslim men who acted so cruelly, but those who looked the other way, and the rest of us, as smugly we snuggled under our mantle of political correctness. The innocent were the victims – young, pre-teen-age girls who deserved more from those who are supposed to watch over them.